In an environment where many households are food insecure and some face malnutrition, rural food hubs are a sustainable business model that can deliver affordable, nutritious food, says James Lonsdale, the National Fresh Produce Manager of the Spar Group.
Lonsdale emphasises the importance of the fresh produce industry and its growers to retail. In addition to food insecurity, households face challenges such as affordability, which means that fruit, vegetables and dairy are often the least consumed food groups. He adds that these challenges are often more visible in the rural areas.
Supermarkets mainly source products from large commercial farmers, which are delivered to centralised distribution centres. Supply chains are long, commercial farmers tend to dominate the supply and smaller farmers struggle to enter the formal value chains.
The solution, Lonsdale says, is to improve availability and affordability of fresh produce through rural hubs.
This entails developing and driving a model of more localised sourcing of fresh produce, enabling the inclusion of emerging smallholder farmers. “It will reduce transport costs, improve lead times and increase freshness and shelf-life,” he adds.
Some of the real benefits include the development of an inclusive agricultural system. It shortens and brings down the cost of the value chain and it enables a food system that can provide nutritious and affordable food for rural communities.
Lonsdale explains that for Spar to implement these rural hubs, it is important to locate the hubs in areas with high numbers of emerging smallholder farmers seeking market access and development support, high agricultural potential and high rural poverty. Essential in these areas are many Spar stores, technical service partners and commercial farmer mentors. Input financing must be available and a food safety programme must be in place.
Two Spar hubs have already been established, one is located in Ofcolaco in the Mopani District of Limpopo and the other in Nkomazi in the Ehlanzeni District of Mpumalanga. Other hub sites being evaluated for the establishment of a third hub include sites in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.